Students and educators from five Iowa high schools recently spent a week in Kosovo, collaborating with local schools and government officials as part of a new innovative partnership to improve agricultural education both in Iowa and abroad.
The group, including Waukee APEX student Renee Piekema, and agriculture teacher Cindy Snell, traveled to Kosovo September 23-30, 2018. This partnership was first envisioned by former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Kosovo’s former Minister of Agriculture, Memli Krasniqi. It was organized by the Global Agriculture Learning Center at Hawkeye Community College, Iowa Sister States, the Iowa Farm Bureau, the Iowa FFA Association, the Iowa FFA Foundation, Waukee FFA, Waukee APEX and the Consulate of the Republic of Kosovo in Des Moines.
“This program was an amazing opportunity to build global understanding both in Iowa and Kosovo,” said Cindy Snell, agriculture teacher at Waukee Community School District. “Our lives will not be the same after an experience like this.”
While in Kosovo, the group met with representatives from the ministries of agriculture; education; and youth, culture, and sport. They also toured local farms and agricultural businesses with representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), including a dairy, an orchard, and a greenhouse.
This war-stricken area only gained its independence from Serbia a decade ago and is now seeking solid footing to stand on its own, but this is not without its challenges. The unemployment rate for Kosovo’s population is 60 percent. The country is small, roughly the size of Delaware, and only 27 percent of that land is suitable for growing crops. The land that is productive does not look like the cropland here in Iowa (vast fields and fertile soil). Instead, Kosovo is home to small plots and only 15 percent of their soil used to grow a variety of foods like potatoes, berries, peppers, apples, melons and vine grapes, is considered “high quality.”
One in five jobs in Iowa is tied to agriculture, and our state is also the second largest exporter of ag goods in the U.S. But in Kosovo, they’re mainly trying to feed their own, and less than five percent of their jobs are attributed to ag.
The collaboration will continue with regular conversations between students and educators in Iowa and Kosovo, leading up to a stateside visit from the Kosovar delegation in April 2019.